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Another Reason You Don't Want to Be Overweight While Pregnant

Photograph by Twenty20

If you’re planning to get pregnant and you're overweight or obese, there's now another reason you'll want to think about shedding those pounds.

Researchers say they've found a link between a woman's body mass index (BMI) in early pregnancy and the increased rate of full-term babies diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child's brain is still developing.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, and although it causes movement dysfunction, the non-progressive impairment can range in severity and can also be treated with therapies to lessen the impact on an individual's life. Some with cerebral palsy are also afflicted with other health issues like seizures and joint problems.

Dr. Eduardo Villamor, an epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan, studied more than 1 million children born to Swedish women between 1997 and 2011. The research team found that there were about two cases per 1,000 births. A total of more than 3,000 children born during the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were diagnosed with cerebral palsy. With the babies born at full-term—about 71 percent of the cases—the link between cerebral palsy and the mother's weight (whether she was overweight or obese) was significant.

Villamor added that the heavier a pregnant mom is, the more the risk increases.

“Women with the most severe forms of obesity who have babies born at full term may have about twice that risk,” he says. Villamor added that the findings only show a correlation between a woman’s weight during pregnancy, not that weight gain during pregnancy causes this condition.

He added that some studies state that pre-pregnancy weight loss may decrease some of these risks.

Cerebral palsy expert Dr. David Roye, the executive director of the Weinberg Family Cerebral Palsy Center at Columbia University in New York City, adds maternal obesity isn’t the only risk factor.

“About 30 to 40 percent [of] cerebral palsy is genetic,” Roye says, adding other environmental factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure could trigger a genetic predisposition for cerebral palsy.

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